November 7, 2017
On November 7, former DNC Interim Chair Donna Brazile released “Hacks,” her memoir of the 2016 election. In the book, Brazile details the dismal state of the Democratic National Committee that she inherited as interim chair, and the challenges she faced coordinating with the Hillary Clinton campaign during the general election.
The most explosive revelation from Brazile’s book was the August 2015 memo between the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee. Brazile reaffirms that “the other campaigns—Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders—also signed victory fund agreements that kicked in should they secure the nomination, not seven months before. They also did not specify as much immediate control from the campaign as the one Hillary signed with the DNC.” Several Democratic insiders previously insisted that Sanders and Clinton signed the same agreement.
“I applaud Donna Brazile for revealing the truth about the Clinton campaign’s unethical influencing of the Democratic National Committee’s role in the 2016 primary process,” former Democratic presidential candidate and former Rhode Island Governor and U.S. Senator Lincoln Chafee told me. “From my experience as a participant in that process the same unethical collusion occurred with the mainstream media. CNN was rightfully labeled ‘Clinton News Network.’ The tragedy is that this unethical behavior resulted in a Democratic Party candidate who lost to a seemingly unelectable man.”
The memo, released by NBC News last week, showed that the Clinton campaign was provided authority over DNC hiring decisions. “With respect to the hiring of a DNC Communications Director, the DNC agrees that no later than September 11, 2015 it will hire one of two candidates previously identified as acceptable to HF,” the first concession noted in the memo. That Communications Director hired by the DNC was Luis Miranda, who eventually resigned from the DNC after the Wikileaks release of hacked DNC emails in July 2016. “With respect to the hiring of future DNC senior staff in the communications, technology, and research departments, in the case of vacancy, the DNC will maintain the authority to make the final decision as between candidates acceptable to HFA.”
The memo continued: “Agreement by the DNC that HFA personnel will be consulted and have joint authority over strategic decisions over the staffing, budget, expenditures, and general election related communications, data, technology, analytics, and research. The DNC will provide HFA advance opportunity to review on-line or mass email, communications that features a particular Democratic primary candidate.” This granted the Clinton campaign authority over the DNC operations, including communications that involved other primary candidates, essentially serving as a public relations arm for the Clinton Campaign.
The memo added, “This does not include any communications related to primary debates – which will be exclusively controlled by the DNC. The DNC will alert HFA in advance of mailing any direct mail communications that features a particular Democratic primary candidate or his or her signature.”
Though the memo claims the DNC would exercise control over the debates, the schedule was created with input from the Clinton Campaign. An April 2015 leaked email from Clinton Campaign Chair John Podesta cited that “Through internal discussions, we concluded that it was in our interest to: 1) limit the number of debates (and the number in each state); 2) start the debates as late as possible; 3) keep debates out of the busy window between February 1 and February 27, 2016 (Iowa to South Carolina); 4) create a schedule that would allow the later debates to be cancelled if the race is for practical purposes over; 5) encourage an emphasis on local issues and local media participants in the debate formats; and 6) ensure a format that provides equal time for all candidates and does not give the moderator any discretion to focus on one candidate.”
The Hillary Victory Fund agreement noted that the funds raised from it would be used to cover expenses for the DNC, all of which would be directed by the Clinton Campaign.
“In addition, HFA will also raise funds for the Victory Fund that will distributed to the DNC in excess of the $1,200,000 monthly base amount (Excess Amount). The Excess Amount raised by HFA that is distributed to the DNC will be spent on the DNC’s data, technology, analytics, research, and communications operations as directed by HFA (Special Projects). Although the DNC will remain responsible for the day to day execution of those Special Projects, HFA will determine (in consultation with the DNC) the Special Project’s scope, strategy, staffing, budget, and manner of execution.”
Included in the memo was a disclaimer to push back against the notion that this agreement was unethical and violates the DNC’s charter, which stipulates the DNC remain neutral in the primaries. “Nothing in this agreement shall be construed to violate the DNC’s obligation of impartiality and neutrality through the Nominating process. All activities performed under this agreement will be focused exclusively on preparations for the General Election and not the Democratic Primary. Further we understand you may enter into similar agreements with other candidates.”
“How does anybody believe the DNC-HFA memo only applied to the general? Clinton controlled every communication mentioning a primary candidate,” tweeted Brendan Fischer, Federal & FEC reform program director at the Campaign Legal Center.
Despite the disclaimer, the stipulations outlined earlier in the memo contradict this claim. This tipping of the scales to Clinton by the Democratic Party may have helped Clinton win the nomination, but it hurt her in the general election, as the party sent a message that the Democrat elites supersede the interests of voters, and reinforced concerns of Hillary Clinton’s corruption.
It also hurt the chances of Democratic candidates in other races.
“Brooklyn’s idea seemed to be that the coattails of Hillary’s victory would sweep all the grateful candidates into office as a great wind on the party’s back,” Brazile writes. “I knew enough about the grassroots to understand that was a myth.”
She claims that the decision to ignore down-ballot races by the Clinton Campaign, which was in charge of the party’s funds, contributed to Clinton’s election loss by failing to establish grassroots enthusiasm and momentum through local and state candidates. “Robby Mook believed he understood the country by the clusters of information about voters he had gathered,” Brazile writes in reference to Clinton’s Campaign Manager, whose arrogance and reliance on data helped create blind spots in the election that caused them to ignore swing states like Wisconsin and Michigan. “That small focus missed the big picture, and it undervalued the emotion that drives people to the polls. You might be able to persuade a handful of Real Simple magazine readers who drink gin and tonics to change their vote to Hillary, but you had not necessarily made them enthusiastic enough to want to get up off the couch and go to the polls.”
The Democratic Party still struggles with this issue in overtly depending on data, polls, and an elite class of political consultants to try to win elections over establishing grassroots campaigns that reach out to make meaningful connections with voters.
Brazile explained that while the Clinton campaign obstructed new ideas, they also tried to implement several bad ones. In one passage from the book, Brazile reflects on having to push back against the Clinton campaign’s idea to have someone dress up as Donald Duck to follow Trump around protesting his failure to release his tax returns. Brazile eventually talked the Clinton Campaign’s general counsel, Marc Elias, to stop the campaign from engaging in copyright infringement.
Photo by Larry French/Getty Images for SiriusXM